Dutch government collapses amid Afghan row

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Dutch government collapses amid Afghan row

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A row over troop deployments in Afghanistan has brought down the Dutch government.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s ruling coalition fell apart over whether the Netherlands should continue its Afghan mission.

The Christian Democrat said a new general election would help clarify things and would be preceded by talks with the Queen and political leaders.

Balkenende has pushed for a reduced Dutch force to stay on in Afghanistan as NATO tries to contain Taliban rebels. But his main coalition partner, Labour, insists Dutch soldiers be withdrawn this year, as planned.

“In these circumstances, there was no way of being a credible partner in the cabinet,” said Labour Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos. “That is why we have decided to resign.”

In line with Dutch public opinion, troops are now likely to be brought home this year. But what about the international verdict?

“With coming elections which might probably result in a very confused political situation, it will be more difficult in the future to contribute to missions like the one in Afghanistan. So, in that sense, I think the current political situation is very much damaging to the reputation of the Netherlands,” said poiltical analyst Edwin Bakker of the Dutch Clingendael Institute.

The Netherlands has around 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, mainly in Uruzgan province. They are due to end their mission in August. NATO’s request for an extension sparked the government split.

Their approach on the ground has won praise but since Dutch soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan four years ago, 21 have died there.